Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
In recent years, the bishops of Kazakhstan have given us a great example of fidelity to the apostolic teaching on Holy Marriage, in the face of a growing number of Church leaders who have endorsed deviations from the traditional doctrine. One of the Magisterial documents quoted in their magnificent statement in defense of the Catholic doctrine of Holy Marriage
is the encyclical Arcanum divinae of Pope Leo XIII in which he told the bishops of the whole world to defend Holy Marriage on this foundation:
The true origin of marriage, venerable brothers, is well known to all . . .We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep . . . And this union of man and woman . . . even from the beginning manifested chiefly two most excellent properties . . . namely, unity and perpetuity (emphasis added) (Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum, 5).
The abandonment of what was “known to all and cannot be denied by any” so that today it is known to almost none of our children and denied by almost all of their teachers has brought us to a state bordering on anarchy in regard to marriage in Catholic communities throughout the world. The decision of Pope Francis to ratify an interpretation of Amoris laetitia that allows those living in adultery to receive Holy Communion has thrust another sword through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. But it has also forced many Catholics of good will to study the authoritative teaching of the Church on papal infallibility in the light of Church history so that they can understand how to reconcile that teaching with the painful reality of the current crisis.
Those who have done so realize that Vatican Council I defined that the Pope enjoys the charism of infallibility not to define any “new doctrine,” but only to define a doctrine of faith or morals contained in the Deposit of Faith handed down from the Apostles. Consequently, if a Pope teaches any “new doctrine” in faith or morals that is not contained in the Deposit of Faith, the faithful are obliged to respectfully resist that innovation and hold fast to the traditional teaching – just as the Bishops of Kazakhstan have done in regard to the Church’s constant teaching on Holy Marriage.
St. Marcella and the Errors of Origen
One of the tragic consequences of the widespread acceptance by Catholics of theistic evolution is that, having assumed what has never been proven – the evolution of a microbe into a human body through hundreds of millions of years of the same material processes that are going on now – they then presume (again, without proof) that we have “progressed” far beyond our “primitive forebears,” in knowledge as well as in technology, so that the study of history has little relevance for us at our advanced stage of evolution. In reality, the historical past contains the lessons that we need to face reality here and now, not the mythical past of a non-existent evolutionary history.
One of the crises in the history of the Church in which papal error played a part was the Origenist controversy of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. Origen was a brilliant theologian and teacher in the city of Alexandria, one of the greatest Christian centers of the patristic era. Unfortunately, Origen’s fondness for Platonic philosophy led him to mix the doctrines of Christianity with the doctrines of Plato in a way that undermined some of the fundamental dogmas of the Faith. In particular, Origen held that God had originally only created spiritual beings and that the existence of material bodies was a consequence of the Fall. In his view – or, at least, in a view widely attributed to him – even inanimate creatures like the sun had once been spiritual beings, and the human body was itself the consequence of a primordial fall from grace. Many of the Church Fathers of the third and fourth centuries were strongly influenced by Origen and drew heavily from his multi-lingual edition of the Holy Scriptures and his voluminous exegesis of many parts of the Bible. However, by the end of the fourth century, St. Jerome and many other Church leaders began to speak out strongly against the errors in Origen’s work, especially in relation to creation, the Incarnation, and the place of spiritual and corporeal creatures in God’s plan for the universe.
At the end of the fourth century, St. Jerome’s former friend Rufinus arrived in Rome with a translation of one of Origen’s works and received a letter of blessing from the Pope, St. Siricius, to speak about Origen’s writings. One of St. Jerome’s spiritual children, the laywoman St. Marcella (whose feast day is January 31), was living a consecrated life in Rome at the time, and when she learned of the errors that were being propagated from Origen’s writings, she protested to the Pope. St. Jerome, though hardly an unbiased commentator, describes what happened in this way:
the muddy feet of heretics fouled the clear waters of the faith of Rome. No wonder that in the streets and in the market places a soothsayer can strike fools on the back or, catching up his cudgel, shatter the teeth of such as carp at him; when such venomous and filthy teaching as this has found at Rome dupes whom it can lead astray. Next came the scandalous version of Origen’s book On First Principles, and that ‘fortunate’ disciple [a Roman Christian named Macarius] who would have been indeed fortunate had he never fallen in with such a master. Next followed the confutation set forth by my supporters, which destroyed the case of the Pharisees [i.e., the Roman clergy who sided with Rufinus] and threw them into confusion. It was then that the holy Marcella, who had long held back lest she should be thought to act from party motives, threw herself into the breach. Conscious that the faith of Rome – once praised by an apostle – was now in danger, and that this new heresy was drawing to itself not only priests and monks but also many of the laity besides imposing on the bishop [Pope St. Siricius, the successor of Pope St. Damasus] who fancied others as guileless as he was himself, she publicly withstood its teachers choosing to please God rather than men.
In short, a mere lay woman dared to criticize the Pope and the Roman clergy for allowing Rufinus to spread a doctrine that contradicted the sacred history of Genesis as it had been understood in the Church, generally, up to that time. According to St. Jerome, Rufinus began to get the worst of it in the debates that flared up over Origen’s writings but asked and obtained letters of commendation from the Pope before leaving Rome for Aquileia. St. Siricius died in 398 A.D. without having withdrawn his permission for Rufinus to teach on the writings of Origen, but his successor, Pope St. Anastasius withdrew the permission and condemned them. St. Jerome asks rhetorically:
You will say, what has this to do with the praises of Marcella? I reply, She it was who originated the condemnation of the heretics. She it was who furnished witnesses first taught by them and then carried away by their heretical teaching. She it was who showed how large a number they had deceived and who brought up against them the impious books On First Principles, books which were passing from hand to hand after being ‘improved’ by the hand of the scorpion [Rufinus]. She it was lastly who called on the heretics in letter after letter to appear in their own defense. They did not indeed venture to come, for they were so conscience-stricken that they let the case go against them by default rather than face their accusers and be convicted by them.
For a long, long time, men of great learning and virtue maintained a good opinion of Origen, focusing on what was good in his work and remaining in the dark about the serious errors in some of his writings. This, in turn, was aided and abetted by men like Rufinus who seem to have suppressed the blatantly erroneous parts of Origen’s writings while extolling other parts of them. However, this could not continue forever, and, with the condemnation of Pope St. Anastasius, the tide definitely began to turn. However, it took a long time for the serious errors in Origen’s work drawn from Platonic philosophy to be formally condemned and rejected by the whole Church at an Ecumenical Council. Indeed, this did not occur until the Sixth Ecumenical Council, the Third of Constantinople, in 553 A.D.
It is not hard to see many similarities between the case of Origen and that of Teilhard de Chardin. For a long time, men of learning and virtue, like Archbishop Fulton Sheen, maintained a good opinion of him, but this was largely the result of the efforts of Teilhard and his disciples to use “orthodox terminology” with a heterodox meaning. Like Rufinus in his day, they suppressed the blatantly erroneous parts of Teilhard’s evolutionary pseudo-science and spirituality, and even blasphemously promoted his false theology under the banner of the “primacy of Christ.” Indeed, we should take heart from the fact that it took more than 150 years for the Church of Christ to finally and definitively condemn the errors of Origen, so that subsequent authorities, like St. John of Damascus in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, confidently condemned the “ravings of Origen” in regard to the origins of man and the universe.
Most of all, we should take heart from the example of St. Marcella, a mere lay-woman who organized an effective resistance against a false philosophy that threatened to corrupt the very foundations of Church teaching on the origins of man and the universe. In her day, there was no formal condemnation from a Pope to support her polemic against the errors of Origen. The Roman clergy and many of the most learned theologians of the age stood aloof or even supported the position of Rufinus. Yet St. Marcella and her allies effectively combated the errors of Origen in regard to the origins of man and the universe by appealing to the sacred history of Genesis as it had been understood in the Church from the beginning.
We who have the whole patrimony of the Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Council Fathers, and their unanimous testimony to the literal truth of the sacred history of Genesis, have no excuse to shrink back from the fight to combat theistic evolution. But we must also learn from St. Marcella’s example how to attain victory in the combat. Recall that St. Jerome tells us that St. Marcella
called on the heretics in letter after letter to appear in their own defense. They did not indeed venture to come, for they were so conscience-stricken that they let the case go against them by default rather than face their accusers and be convicted by them.
Is there a lesson here for us?
Again and again, we have invited Catholic theistic evolutionists all over the world to join us in public debates so that the faithful, from the bishops to the laity, have an opportunity to hear the arguments for and against the hypothesis of theistic evolution, from the perspective of theology, philosophy, and natural science. Only twice in twenty years have we been able to find anyone willing to defend theistic evolution in the public forum. So, with the example of St. Marcella in mind, we would like to ask you to contact the leading theistic evolutionists in your area, and ask them to please contact us to arrange a public debate on the following proposition:
Be it resolved that the traditional Catholic doctrine of special creation – the fiat creation of all of the different kinds of creatures by God for man less than ten thousand years ago – is a much better explanation of all of the facts of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Magisterial teaching, and natural science than theistic evolution – the view that God used hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary processes to evolve the bodies of the first human beings.
We will provide a theological speaker and a natural science speaker, and invite the theistic evolutionists to do the same. We can then agree on a time, a place, a moderator, and rules for the debate. In this way, we can all finally obey the exhortation of Pope Pius XII in Humani generis to conduct a thorough examination of the arguments for and against the evolutionary hypothesis. Indeed, we are confident that, as it was in the days of St. Marcella, so in our day, an open and honest debate will clearly demonstrate the truth of the traditional doctrine of creation and expose the fatal flaws in the doctrine of theistic evolution.
With gratitude for your faithful prayers and support, I am
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata,
P.S. Please let us know if you are interested in attending our leadership retreat in the first week of August at the S.O.L.T. retreat center in Corpus Christ, Texas, and especially if you are interested in helping us to produce a play with the young people who attend the retreat on the life of Venerable Maria of Agreda, the “Blue Nun.” We also plan to produce a series of videos for young people between the ages of 5 and 12 on the doctrines of Genesis 1-11, so please let us know if you would be interested in that project as well.
P.P.S. Please continue to spread the word about our DVD series “Foundations Restored” and encourage your friends and relatives to visit the website www.foundationsrestored.com and to view the first two episodes gratis.